The Big Idea
Don’t measure your own worth by the outcome of your projects
Questions I Answer
- How can I be more productive?
- What can I do to help me feel like I’ve gotten enough done?
- How can I stop comparing myself to others?
- What can I do to let go of Imposter Syndrome?
Actions to Take
- Take a step back and focus on objective self-assessments. Try writing down things you’re truly good at and areas you might need to work on. You might even ask a trusted friend or a colleague for help doing this realistically.
- Ask yourself what you would do if you weren’t afraid. Write it down, say it out loud, tell someone else, and then do it!
Key Topics in the Show
Understand what Imposter Syndrome is and how it ties into perfectionism
How good feedback from others can help you feel more secure in your accomplishments
Actionable tips for shifting your mindset and combating your negative feelings about yourself
Learn 5 quick strategies to defeat Imposter Syndrome for good
Resources and Links
- Related Episodes:
- 5 Tips on Letting Go of Imposter Syndrome:
- Seek out validation and feedback from trusted friends and co-workers in your life to uncover what you’re doing right and where you can improve.
- Change your language: Reign in your doubt and change your language to be more confident.
- Stop with the stories: Try Reframing your story by writing it down.
- Stop letting mistakes devalue your abilities or qualifications.
- Visualize success and make it a regular part of your routine.
Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on finding success and happiness through the power of productivity. Each season, Tanya focuses on specific strategies to help you discover your own priorities and purpose. Season 6 is all about turning your stumbling blocks into starting blocks. You can also join Tanya for more interaction and support in her free Facebook group at inkwellpress.com/group. Now here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Hello, hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press, and this is Episode 67. Today’s episode is brought to you by the Academic Year Planners from inkWELL Press, and I’ll be sharing more about that later on in the episode. This season is all about turning our stumbling blocks into our starting blocks. Last week we started this season off with talking about perfectionism. I want to continue that conversation in a way with today’s topic, which is all about imposter syndrome. Do you know what I mean when I talk about imposter syndrome? It’s that feeling that you don’t really deserve the approval or the achievements you’ve received, that you’re really a fraud and you worry that if you let your guard down, others will realize it.
Let me ask you this, do you feel like people around you have succeeded largely due to their talents and dedication, while you’ve gotten to where you are thanks to luck and putting in extra effort to compensate for true giftedness? If the answer is yes, you might be suffering from impostor syndrome. It’s something that so many people deal with. Much like the perfectionist tendencies we talked about last week, you’re working scared, scared that one day you’ll be exposed, and everyone around you will realize you don’t really belong. Feeling like the accomplishments and accolades you received were just that, received, not really earned. Like perfectionism, it’s really prevalent in today’s society. It’s common to worry about what others think of us or where we fit in, or how do we stand out among our friends and our colleagues. But so many worry in ways that are not really grounded in truth. We worry about not being good enough, even when we have plenty of evidence to the contrary. Rational thinking and evidence is ignored and we continue to think that we are falling behind everyone else.
Imposter syndrome can surface in a few different ways: being absolutely sure you’re going to fail despite your best efforts, or feeling like a complete fraud, that you’ve tricked everyone and will be found out at any moment, or devaluing your worth even when others have actively supported you, or underestimating your experience or expertise. Imposter syndrome was first discovered by psychologists, Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in around 1978. Clance was working at a women’s college and at the time noticed that many of the students were having irrational worries about being found out as frauds, despite the external evidence proving their competence. She wrote at the time, “These women do not experience an internal sense of success. They consider themselves imposters.” And though it’s now known as imposter syndrome, Clance once shared with Harvard social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, that if she could do it all over again, she would call it
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imposter experience, because it’s not really a syndrome or a mental illness, it’s something almost everyone experiences.
Many clinical psychologists believe imposter syndrome isn’t a distinct permanent condition, but it’s a complex state that many people feel when they’re stretched too thin or they’re burnt out, and that some people are more likely to experience it than others. But it’s estimated that about 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome in some shape or form. Interestingly, there’s evidence that imposter syndrome correlates with success, that true imposters, people who really do lie about their abilities, they don’t actually suffer from imposter syndrome. So the more successful you are, the more likely it is that you’re going to suffer a little bit of this imposter syndrome. Stress tends to bring out the imposter syndrome in many of us.
So what we need to do is we need to turn this harmful thinking into helpful feedback. We need to take this stumbling block, turn it into a starting block. Imposter syndrome makes sufferers more prone to shame and anxiety when things go wrong, because they feel it reveals their lack of ability or talent. This makes people adopt a couple of psychological habits: defensive pessimism and self-handicapping. Defensive pessimism is fearing the worst and then trying to avoid the worst case scenarios, especially by working excessively hard. Self-handicapping is deliberately hurting your own work by doing things like procrastinating or only working on projects at the last minute, because this gives you a built-in excuse when things ultimately go wrong.
So you can see why imposter syndrome relates so closely to our old friend perfectionism. Imposter syndrome can lean into perfectionist tendencies, which leads to a chronic and harmful state of mind. If and when success comes, the defensively pessimistic imposter interprets those achievements as being caused by huge unrealistic efforts, and they believe that most people around them could have done it better and faster. The procrastinating imposter sees their success due to luck, because well, they just winged it anyways. Really, we need to revisit your motives, your why, and rediscover the joy of creation for its own sake. Don’t measure your own worth by the outcome of your projects.
It’s suggested that experiencing imposter syndrome can stem from struggling to accurately assess your own abilities. This makes sense because, think about how hard we are on ourselves, how we feel the need to do it all and do it well, all while looking really good doing it, right? We set ourselves up with expectations we would never place on anyone else, because we aren’t truly able to step outside of ourselves and assess our strengths. Our ruler for measuring ourselves is not very accurate.
Imes, one of the discoverers of imposter syndrome, she suggests taking a step back and focusing on objective self-assessments. Try writing things down that you’re really good at, and the areas you might need to work on. You might even ask a trusted friend or a colleague to help you do this realistically. We want to recognize areas where you have room for improvement, as well as areas where you’re overlooking your abilities, because that will help fight those feelings of impostor syndrome. What’s important with asking someone else to help you with this activity is that imposter syndrome can be a rational response to insufficient feedback.
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Without feedback there are three options: one, you can believe without evidence that you’re awesome at what you do. Two, you can believe without evidence that you’re terrible at what you do, and quit and do something else. Or three, you can believe without evidence, that you’re terrible at what you do and you’re somehow successfully pretending that you’re awesome at what you do. So you can see it’s important to really look at things realistically. And getting good feedback from a trusted friend or colleague helps with that.
When you start getting effective, actionable feedback about your work, you can begin to realize the world didn’t end when you didn’t do something perfectly. You fix your work and you move on. Too often though, we try to hide because of imposter syndrome. It prevents us from improving where we really could improve. Instead of being fearful of the work ahead of you, be curious. Look or ask for more information. Figure out what feedback you need to move forward. Moving forward with imposter syndrome means you’re confident based off knowledge, not delusion.
So get feedback on what you’re doing and get if often, as long as it’s coming from a good, trusted source. I often say, “I love feedback when it comes from a place of love.” I think that’s what’s really important. We all have a need for this type of assessment and feedback, because when it does come from a place that feels secure, it really can help you grow and become the person you want to be.
It’s amazing, it’s so surprising how prevalent imposter syndrome really is. I want to share a little bit about that in just a minute. But first, let’s have a quick word from our sponsor. This month inkWELL Press launches our new line of 2018-2019 academic planners in the hardcover and popular coil-free design. These 12 month planners run July 2018 through June 2019, and they feature the same goal-setting features, same thick paper and high-end materials as our regular year planners. Academic year planners are perfect for students, teachers, parents, or anyone who plans their year around the school calendar. Just head to inkwellpress.com for details, and place your order, so you can be prepared well before the school year starts.
So all this talk about imposter syndrome probably makes you wonder, “Am I the only person who feels like a fraud? Am I the only one who worries about being found out?” So I thought it would be helpful to share with you some famous women who’ve shared their experiences with imposter syndrome. Maya Angelou once said, after her 11th book, that every time she wrote a book, she’d think to herself, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now, I run a game on everybody.” Jodie Foster, she said she thought it was a fluke that she’d gotten into Yale and that she won the Academy Award, that they’d come and take her Oscar back. She said, “They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.'” And then there’s Meryl Streep, who said, “Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?” Never mind the fact that she’s one more Oscars than anyone else in history.
It’s easy to assume that our peers got to the same place as we did through effortless talent. But if you ask them, is that really what they would say? This is an illusion we’ve created for ourselves. In reality, the most impressive people have had
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large setbacks, large changes in direction, and they’ve had many, many moments of doubt. Let me throw a little truth your way here. There are no overnight success stories unless they stayed up all night working. Overnight success is one of those bedtime stories we tell ourselves because it happens to other people. We just don’t peak behind the curtains and see that they’ve been sweating away all along.
We have to do away with this idea that everyone got to where they were effortlessly, that it didn’t take a lot of work, or that they are an overnight success. A good way to combat this is to try talking to your trusted peers or your mentors about their careers. Listening to other people’s stories helps you stay grounded in reality, that nothing really comes easy. If talking in person to someone in your peer group isn’t possible, although I challenge you, is it really impossible? Try finding a podcast that interviews people that you’d like to emulate, or read biographies of people that you look up to. Try in any way possible to paint a realistic picture of the struggles people have really gone through on their path to success.
You want to create a culture of support and honesty by encouraging the people in your workplace to be open and honest about the trials and setbacks in their own successes. Everyone can help each other out with constructive feedback aimed at processes and techniques rather than personal criticisms. Recent Belgian research has shown that a supportive working environment helps reduce the link between workers feeling imposter syndrome and their lack of job satisfaction and commitment.
So find a wingman or a wingwoman by talking to your colleagues and your friends. Ask them, “Have you felt like an imposter too?” Knowing that others feel this way helps you distinguish your inner voice from the doubtful voice of little me inside your head. Let’s turn this stumbling block into a starting block.
I have five quick strategies to help you defeat imposter syndrome. The first one is, in today’s online age it can be easier to take negative feedback, online harassment, or insults to heart, instead of the compliments, the positive feedback, and the validation. To combat this, seek out validation and feedback from coworkers, employers, friends. Ask them what you’re doing right and where you can improve and offer the same to them. These are the real people in your life, not the anonymous trolls on social media, the people who actually know you. You have to stop seeking validation where it doesn’t truly lie, in the numbers of likes on a social media post.
If you have trouble keeping that feedback at the top of your mind instead of negativity, try keeping a digital or even a physical file of the feedback you’ve earned and received that makes you feel good or motivated. You’ve heard me share our High-Five Friday tradition here at inkWELL Press. I do that because we all need reminders of the good that we do, each and every one of us.
The second strategy you can do is change your language. Take a look at the language you’ve been using. Do you say, “I feel” a lot? Let’s change that to, “I think”. Do you pitch ideas starting with, “It might just be me, but …” Reign in that doubt, change your language to be more confident. Assume that your thoughts are valid and you’re probably not the only one who has them. Try, “I have a question, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.” Speak up, but change the way that you talk. I think it’s really
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important. We’ve talked about semantics before and how they affect the way that we think, I think it’s so important to talk assertively because it really does change the way that you look at yourself.
The third thing you can do is stop telling yourself stories. Remember when we talked about how we tell stories to ourself, back in Episode 63? Try reframing your story by writing it down. Imagine you’re speaking at a conference and they need an introduction bio for the moderator, or that you’re writing a book and they need an author bio. What would you say, and how would you say it? Would you brush off your accomplishments as insignificant? Take time to write out who you are and how you get to where you are, and let yourself shine. Then accept it, if it’s all true, not fiction. It’s easy for us to brush aside compliments when people give them to us, isn’t it? We want to pretend like it doesn’t happen. But when someone says something negative to us, we soak all of that in, we marinate in it, and I want to encourage you to look at what really does make you shine.
The fourth thing you can do is stop letting mistakes devalue your abilities or your qualifications. We all make mistakes from time to time. There’s not one of us in this world who has not made a big mistake. Women tend to question themselves when they make a mistake. But when men screw up, they’re more likely to point to bad luck, poor work, or not enough help from others, external forces rather than internal. Remember, the best athletes, they don’t always win. The best lawyers lose cases. The best actors star in busts. We all have mistakes that we’ve made. It doesn’t mean that your accomplishments are any less significant.
The fifth thing you can do is visualize success. Make that a regular part of your routine. Olympic athletes and military officers all visualize precisely how they’ll navigate successfully through a situation before it even happens. Use this technique to your advantage, navigate through the projects and the tasks you’re given. I think you’re going to find yourself feeling a little more successful. When you do find success, really allow yourself to receive it. I think that it is so important to accept what has been given to us.
I have a little challenge for you this week. I want you to ask yourself, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? I want you to write it down. I want you to say it out loud. I want you to tell someone else. Then I want you to do it. I want you to stop being held back by your imposter syndrome, by thinking that you didn’t really earn all of the good that you’ve received in your life. Remember that you’re not alone in feeling this way. So write down the things that you are good at. Ask other people what they admire about in you. Write down the things that you need to improve upon. Keep it realistic. When you keep that list grounded in reality, it makes it easier to believe the good you’ve written, the good things that you have done. So ask yourself that question, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
This season we’re going to continue this idea of looking at our stumbling blocks, turning them on their head and turning them into starting blocks. I cannot wait for next week, where I’ll have a special guest on, author Jeff Goins, who’s written some amazing books. I feel like he’ll have so much insight to share with you, as we talk through some of these stumbling blocks all season long. So be sure to tune in next week for that.
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In the meantime, I’ll have my mini episode, The Weekender, where I’m sharing a story of someone who feels imposter syndrome, and I think you’ll be shocked when you find out who it is, I know I was. So be sure to tune in for that. I want to remind you too to make sure to sign up for my newsletter list at inkwellpress.com/ podcastemail. Each week I send out information about that week’s episodes, any free downloads, all kinds of goodness comes your way in your inbox each week. So be sure to sign up for that. All right, until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To join Tanya’s free group, simply go to inkwellpress.com/group.